— Published 16 March 2022

CAS leaves Russian football out of the picture

There is no time to lose. The Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) took the case to the Russian Football Federation (RFF) last week and handed down its first decision on Tuesday 15 March. Not surprisingly, it is contrary to the expectations of the Russian body.

CAS announced in a press release that it had rejected the Russian Football Federation’s request to suspend the sanctions imposed by UEFA on its clubs and national teams after the invasion of Ukraine.

The continental body had announced on 28 February, just four days after the conflict began, that it was suspending Russia and its teams from European competitions. FIFA followed suit, brutally closing the door on qualification for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar for the Russian national team.

The two football bodies were then among the first to apply in a concrete way, and without nuance, the IOC’s recommendation to ban Russian and Belarusian athletes from international competitions. But they did not bother to detail the legal grounds for their decision. UEFA merely cited “serious concerns about the ability to ensure the safety of all”. The Russian Football Federation took the opportunity to appeal to CAS and challenge its exclusion.

The result was not long in coming. The court upheld the exclusion of Russian teams from European competitions. Spartak Moscow remains banned from the Europa League, a competition it had already withdrawn from, preferring to concentrate on domestic events. The Russian women’s team, for its part, has been excluded from Euro 2022, scheduled for next summer in England.

The case is not yet completely closed. CAS explained that it had ruled on the form. Russia’s appeal has yet to be decided on the merits. The arbitration procedure will therefore continue. But no date has yet been set for a hearing.

Above all, CAS has not yet given its decision in the other procedure, opened by the Russian Football Federation against FIFA. It is expected “by the end of the week”. Barring an unlikely turn of events, it should be comparable to the one handed down on Tuesday 15 March by the Lausanne-based court.

Russia should thus remain off the road to the 2022 World Cup in Qatar, four years after having organised the last global tournament. It should not be allowed to play the play-offs, although it was supposed to host them on its soil at the end of March.

FIFA did not wait for the decision of the Court of Arbitration for Sport to recompose the qualification tables for the 2022 World Cup. It has directly qualified Poland, who should have met Russia, for the play-off final. The Poles will face the winner of the match between Sweden and the Czech Republic.

In practice, the CAS decision does not upset the established order. The Russian clubs had already given up on continuing their season on the European stage. As for the national team, it would have been unable to play the play-offs for the 2022 World Cup on the pitch, as its potential opponents had all announced their refusal to meet it.

But this first verdict of the international court could have the effect of nipping in the bud the Russian sports movement’s desire to take legal action. Its athletes will have to come to terms with the fact that they will not see any international competition in 2022.